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Grad students launch The Hoarding Project, international study on behavior

1YeatsJ.jpg1SampsonJ.jpgHoarding practices have been sensationalized by the media and television shows, but two Family Social Science graduate students see deeper issues involving trauma, grief, and loss, and have launched an international study to discover more and help people who hoard and their families.

In 2009, Jennifer Sampson conducted interviews about hoarding behavior. She noticed a lot of people spoke about experiences in terms of grief and loss, and contacted Janet Yeats. Yeats has experience in dealing with trauma and ambiguous loss. Together, they created The Hoarding Project to better understand and have a discussion about the connection between hoarding behavior and trauma.

They organized a six week psychoeducational support group for family members of people who hoard. The eight group members were given time to talk to each other in a support group format about their experiences surrounding compulsive hoarding behavior.

"Ambiguous loss theory turned out to be a good way to describe the relationship between people who hoard and their family members," said Yeats.

Ambiguous loss theory was developed by Family Social Science professor emeritus Pauline Boss, and can occur in two main types: when there is physical absence and psychological presence--as when there is no body to bury--or when there is physical presence and psychological absence--as in cases of dementia, addictions, or other chronic illness.

"The current treatment for people who hoard is based on the individual," said Sampson, "while we feel that focusing on the whole family, with correct information about hoarding that is based in research, will be much more effective."

Sampson and Yeats are recruiting adults to take part in an online survey to gather information for further research. Both people who hoard and their family members are encouraged to participate. Issues such as mental illness, attachment relationships, and unresolved trauma and loss will be examined to better understand how they affect hoarding behavior.

The project has provided aftercare to some individuals featured on TV shows that show hoarding, but Sampson and Yeats said that those cases are often extreme and sensationalized.

"Hoarding involves four factors - excessive acquisition, difficulty discarding items, clutter, and distress - but hoarding itself is a spectrum," said Sampson. "Not everyone who hoards lives in a junk house."

"Hoarding shows often feature emergency situations, where an individual is facing eviction or property loss, and have time constraints," said Yeats. "Because things move so fast, the experience can be even more traumatizing."

The Hoarding Project plans on focusing on the entire family, and will offer education and training to professionals, media affiliates, and members of the public. Learn more at

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